Tour of Altanta, Stage 6

We all sat up on the porch of an abandoned Golf course club house, watching the rain drop buckets on the hills around us.

A cyclist who rides for Kazane Racing, the team I raced for last year came for the final race. He sat on the porch with us, admiring the two Kazane bikes’ picturesque pose in front of the foggy mountain tops.

“Stratton would think this is bad ass,” he said.

“Stratton wouldn’t think it’s bad ass when he finds out I didn’t race today,” I replied.

My legs were dead, we had a huge mountain climb to complete on the sixty mile stage today. And it is pouring rain. But, today is the last day of the Tour and I am only a few points away from a second place finish in the overall. Every one of the top five GC contenders has scored points in every race so far. So the chances that I could skip this race and maintain my position is nearly impossible.

Fortunately for my inspiration, the rain stopped before the neutral roll-out was over. The race began and soon the skies were clearing and the roads were dry.

I had not noticed in the elevation profile for this race how ridiculously hilly it was. The giant pinnacle mountain in the middle of the profile I guess had distracted my attention from all the lesser, but still huge climbs we had throughout the day.

Each time I would ask, did we pass the lake yet? This is the mountain right? And then we would coast over the peak only to roll down into the valley and do it all over again.

Finally, I was almost happy to see the landmark lake that signified the climb was about to begin. I knew that the field would become select here and we would drop the guys who could bluff an attack over the smaller climbs.

Less than a quarter-mile into the climb, I saw a group lightly riding away from the field. I had been caught out of the attack that would roll away effortlessly. But a gap opened up on the side of the road and i jumped off the front to bridge the gap.

Caught out between the two groups, I looked back to see a flurry of attacks coming from behind me. Several riders had missed the break and knew that I was their last chance of bridging that gap. I looked back twice more. The second time I saw the attacks continuing as the peleton had turned into an “every man for himself” free for all.

And the third time I looked back, there was nothing but an empty road behind me.

When I reached the breakaway, another two groups had gone up the road even further. The lead group was two riders, pedaling away from us at an unbearable speed. Then chase group 1 was three riders all struggling in the middle, not willing to accept racing for third, but also not knowing if they could maintain this energy for the twenty miles back to the finish.

When I reached chase group 2, about a third of the way up the climb, I knew I could not accept my position. Two of the three riders ahead of me in the GC were in this group. Once my heart rate settled, I went to the front and made a pull to show everyone I was willing to work. But when I turned around and saw no one on my wheel and the Canadian, Nicholas Jay pounding on his pedals using all his might to try to get back on my wheel, I knew this was my chance.

So i jumped again, and increased the gap, jumped again and increased the gap, and the third time, once again, there was no one in sight. Soon I found myself in chase group 2 to make our pack four riders strong.

We pulled each other up the mountain and just hung on until the peak. By the summit, we had caught a category 1 cyclist from the race ahead of us and now had five in our group. But on the downhills, the bigger the field, the faster they go. Our hope was to chase down the leaders to increase both our chances of staying away from the chasers behind.

But as we raced down the mountain at fifty miles an hour, the day was not meant to be won so easily. First the group with the other two GC contenders caught us and then, less than five miles from the finish, a select peleton of fifteen or so riders caught us.

Instantly, so close to the finish I needed to re shift my focus from a climber to the chess match of the sprinter. So I set myself up, watching out for sluggish, tired riders that I could possibly get stuck behind in the lead out to the finish. As I worked my way through to pack, avoiding certain wheels, I ended up on the perfect wheel. We cruised, riding easy with our tired legs almost all the way to the 200m mark and then the guy in front of me went. It was a futile effort at that point, having been trapped out in the front but he managed to salvage a third place finish in the field sprint. Three guys managed to stay away off the front. But I raced past all my opponents in the field to win the sprint.

Nicholas Jay stayed right on my wheel, knowing that as long as he was only a few points behind me, he need not beat me today to keep his third place in the GC. I finished out the weekend in fourth overall only a few points behind second place and a couple behind third. It was definitely and exciting weekend of racing but I am sure ready for a few days of rest and recovery.

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